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New road, rail plan to ease Kenyans movement

Nairobi Commuter Rail network

Nairobi Commuter Rail network

  • Commuters on the Syokimau-Nairobi railway line are experiencing what more city dwellers will once all the pieces of the grand plan are in place.

  • Syokimau is just one of the many rail and road projects that will make moving around Nairobi much easier once they are complete.

  • These projects will go a long way in making Nairobi play its role as the country’s and region’s business and diplomatic hub.

Commuters on the Syokimau-Nairobi railway line are experiencing what more city dwellers will once all the pieces of the grand plan are in place.

Today, it takes less than 30 minutes to move from the station on the edge of Machakos county to the city centre.

Travelling by public or private means via Mombasa road can take as long as two hours on bad traffic days.

Syokimau is just one of the many rail and road projects that will make moving around Nairobi much easier once they are complete.

The transport sector has seen massive investment in recent years. The Thika superhighway which has ended the traffic gridlock is now complete.

The economic impact of the highway is already being felt with land prices rising sharply and high end real estate developers coming in.

The Northern and Eastern bypasses, all aimed at decongesting the city, are having a similar effect.

China’s Export-Import Bank (Eximbank) is financing the Southern bypass whose construction has started.

The government has also entered into fresh talks with the Chinese government on the expansion of Ngong Road into a dual carriageway.

Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) will carry out the first phase of the project from the City Mortuary roundabout to Adams Arcade.

Kenya national railway network

Kenya national railway network

The second phase will cover the section up to Karen shopping centre with the third phase from Karen linking up with Langata Road. On completion, the bypass roads tolls will be optional.

Road users will have a choice between paying to travel on the rapid bypass or using the old roads which will still be congested. The Southern bypass runs from St James Hospital on Mombasa Road to Kikuyu, off the Nakuru highway.

Its construction has now become more urgent, in view of the heavy motor vehicle congestion being experienced on Uhuru Highway.

The 30km Eastern bypass links Mombasa Road with Ruiru-Kiambu Road, while the two kilometre Northern bypass is between Thika and Limuru Roads are near complete.

 

Langata Road will also be improved to a dual carriage way from Kenya Wildlife Service gate to an interchange at Bomas of Kenya.

These projects will go a long way in making Nairobi play its role as the country’s and region’s business and diplomatic hub.

Of even bigger significance is the railway transport development already under way.

Frequent fliers to Mombasa point out that it can take four hours to get to the Coast, even though it is just a 45-minute flight away.

The rest of the time is taken up with an hour to check in — and at least two hours spent in the perpetual traffic jam on Mombasa Road. The same four hours is the flight time to South Africa.

For Nairobi, the long journey is a major hindrance and adversely affects the economy because of the time and money wasted in traffic congestion.

If there were a railway from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, said the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC), the two-hour journey along Mombasa Road could take exactly 17 minutes.

A plan to have a three-kilometre track built from the airport to the existing railway line with a terminus a few minutes’ walk to the city centre was conceived in 1992.

It had been collecting dust on the shelves until April 2009, when Kenya Railways signed an agreement with InfraCo, a donor-funded infrastructure development company, to modernise the railway network.

The project also involves a revamp of the network serving Dandora, Kahawa, Ruiru and Thika to the east of the city; Pipeline, Embakasi, Marimbeti, Athi River and Lukenya on the way to Mombasa; and Kibera, Dagoretti, Kikuyu, Muguga and Limuru on the way to Nakuru.

The additional line from Embakasi to JKIA would be the first completely new line to be laid since the railway was built more than a century ago.

Under the plan, InfraCo would shoulder much of the initial costs and risks, including the feasibility study, with Kenya Railways overseeing the rest of the work.

The biggest beneficiaries would be people who live or would like to live in the cheaper and roomier residences in the outskirts of the city, away from the pollution and the congestion.

For those coming in from the upper sides of Machakos — the so-called “bedroom of Nairobi” — it now involves driving to the railway station at Syokimau and parking there.

The concept is called Park and Ride and the parking lot can take 2,500 vehicles plus a terminus for public transport. Transport PS Nduva Muli, the former managing director of Kenya Railawys, says the plan for Syokimau would be a model for the rest of the city.

It does not take much to lay a railway track, he said, and the upgrading underlined the failure to invest and plan for expansion that should have started 20 years ago.

The biggest setback in such projects was acquiring the land. Moving encroachers off railway land, most prevalent in Kibera  where eight villages lie along the length of the line, and at Mukuru in Embakasi, had also been a headache.

KRC was working on a World Bank programme that involved building new homes for the encroachers away from the railway.

However Parliament last week opposed this plan saying it will set a precedent for others to invade public land and demand compensation.

 

MPs instead want KR to evict the squatters. This stand-off may delay the project. Much time would also be spent moving electricity lines, water pipes and sewers.

Construction of the line from JKIA to Embakasi is yet to start. The modernised urban commuter railway, the first phase in the revamp of the national network, was expected to be up and running by 2014.

It is planned to take 200,000 passengers a day, a far cry from the 30,000 carried by the concessionaire, Rift Valley Railways.

The concession for passenger transport will have run out by then and KRC plans to have another operator handle the modernised urban commuter network.

In the Nairobi of the future and with the revamp of the network around the metropolitan area, city authorities need to plan for better organised roads as well.

This would involve planning by authorities in other towns, such as Thika, Athi River, Kikuyu and Ruiru for building matatu termini near railway stations. It would also require a reorganisation of the railway terminus in the city centre.

Nairobi residents would rightly argue that it had taken too long for the plans and artists’ impressions of an improved railway system to become reality.

-Nation

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